At this year’s annual Tailhook Association symposium, the Navy pilot who shot down the Sukhoi in June, Lt. Cmdr. Michael "Mob" Tremel, discussed the dogfight. Tremel and three other pilots who were flying an air-support mission that day were guest speakers at the Sept. 10 event, which was attended by current and former Navy aviators.
“The whole mission out there that day was to go defeat ISIS and annihilate ISIS,” Tremmel said. “If at any point in time that day it had escalated, that would have been fine by us.”
But it didn’t play out that way.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael "Mob" Tremel, discussed the shootdown of the Su-22 over Syria in June 2017.Screenshot via the Tailhook Association
As the F/A-18s came on station over U.S.-backed forces, they spotted a Syrian Su-22 approaching ground forces, carrying ordnance.
Repeated radio calls to the Su-22, a Cold War-era attack jet designed to strike targets on the ground, went unheeded. According to The War Zone, even after Tremel “thumped” the aircraft three times — which means flying over the jet and popping flares — the warnings were ignored. As the Su-22 came within striking distance and began to dive, it released its ordnance, which landed near U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
Tremel — cleared under the rules of engagement — locked onto the Su-22 with an AIM-9X Sidewinder and fired, but the Sukhoi popped flares. “I lose the smoke trail and I have no idea what happened at that time,” Tremel said at the symposium. Despite the venerable Sidewinder’s rep as a highly advanced piece of ordnance, the infrared-guided missile was drawn away by flares.
The enemy bird was still in the air and still a threat to friendly forces on the ground, so it was time to “try something different,” Tremel recounted.
He switched to the slightly slower-to-arm, radar-guided AIM-120 AMRAAM, and cut loose with one.
“It’ll do its job,” Tremel said. And it did. The AMRAAM struck the rear of the Su-22 and exploded. As the aircraft pitched and then plummeted to the earth, the pilot ejected. Tremel quickly rolled away from the explosion to avoid flying through it, adding that by the end of the sortie “I know I was just operating on brainstem power.” The whole ordeal lasted less than eight minutes, Tremel said in July.
Even though he had just scored the United States’ first air-to-air kill in 18 years, after Tremel made it back to the carrier, business continued as usual. In his case, that meant Tremel’s CO reminding him he was the air-wing duty safety officer that day, Tremel said at the symposium. “The show goes on,” he added, with a laugh.
President Donald Trump announced in December that he would withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, but Sen. Lindsey Graham has since made a strong push to keep a small residual force along the Turkish border along with troops from European allies.
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